Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez

Schaeffer.jpgSince the much-discussed and controversial memoir Crazy for God by Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis and Edith, there has been a bit of renewed interest in the evangelical cultural critic, theologian, philosopher and founder of L’Abri, a drop in study center Christian community in Switzerland that ministered to questioning, often disaffected youth in the late 60s early 70s–and exits in several cities throughout the world yet today.  In what seemed to be light years ahead of his time, he talked about worldviews, about presuppositions, the consequences of ideas, the zeitgeist of the times and the flow of history–all as important matters for Christian witness and mission and daily discipleship.  He organized their Swiss hostel (and inspired other intentional communities) as folks bonded together to live out the implications of a Christian view of life in the teeth of a modernistic and secularized cultural ethos.  He assured us that there were “no little people” and that God wanted to use us for Christ’s cosmic purposes, to share grace and thoughtfulness and beauty in such a fallen world that God surely loves.

As evangelicals, especially, discover the grand flow of the Bible as a worldview-shaping Story there is a new passion to explore God’s interest in social and cultural engagement, and seek to honor Christ in all of life—from the arts to the sciences, from local business practices to global justice, from pop culture to environmental studies, from race relations to the contours of our workplaces.  Thank goodness.  Reading folks from Jim Wallis to Leslie Newbegin, from Marva Dawn to N.T. Wright, we search for profound resources to “fund” such a broad vision of Kingdom reformation and many are now using the language of worldview, and this wholistic, imaginative move to embody a new, integrated, way of life. We have studied from those who have popularized and explored the vast implications of that phrase and that move.  (Both James Sire and Nancy Pearcey, who are vital voices in worldview studies, have L’Abri connections. So does Fabric of Faithfulness author Steve Garber. The annual Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh is one huge example of fruit born from conversations around L’Abri themes;  Charles Colson’s exemplary involvement in prison reform is another fruit of Schaeffer’s evangelical yet worldviewish thinking about societal transformation.  And on and on, some of my favorite contemporary authors and very best friends…) 

 We’ve learned that to be “radical” means not to be far left or way out, but to get to the “root” of things, to look at the deepest questions in the most profound ways.  It may be that  “neo-Calvinists” took up that banner most vocally in the past 25 years, influenced by their “radical” hero, Dutch statesman and public theologian Abraham Kuyper, who called for such deep rethinking of everything and it is clear that Kuyper and his rejection of dualism and personalism rubbed off in some ways on Schaeffer and his L’Abri movement.  Nowadays, although neo-Calvinism is on the lips (and keyboards) of places like Comment and Catapult and Richard Mouw’s blog, many others are just glad for reforming possibilities and intellectually serious faith traditions other than old-school liberal Protestantism and right-wing conservative fundamentalism. (I have written elsewhere that even the postmodern emergent movement has some connections to radical worldview thinkers like Brian Walsh and Jamie Smith and the late Robert Webber—who themselves have been nurtured in the Dutch neo-Cal and Kuyper tradition and L’Abri, too.)

 I would say that the person who stands for so much of all of this for me, is, in fact, Francis Schaeffer.  As I’ve written about often, I was introduced to Schaeffer’s books (his early 70s work on Christian responsibilities for creation care, his cultural studies, his critiques of Protestant liberalism, his little book on the arts…) and it showed me immense new possibilities.  To see someone with historic orthodox theology (I was also reading stuff like Malcolm Boyd and Dan Berrigan at the time) who also cared about the burning issues of the day, and even the cries of the counterculture, just blew me away.

I am glad that there is now a new biography of Schaeffer, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez (Crossway; $24.95.) It is done by a very reputable biographer, and is a work which many have suggested will be the best bio yet.  It just came, and I’ve not seen any advanced reviews, but as I browse through it, I can tell that it will be helpful and inspiring, informative and fulfilling. Colin Duriez has done impressive biographies of C.S. Lewis and also of J.R.R. Tolkien, so he clearly is in the right orbit.  Before studying English and philosophy at University of Ulster, he spent time at L’Abri.  He is quite aware of his subject, has had the cooperation of the extended Schaeffer circle, and knows details that have been important in Fran’s life (for instance, his meeting in 1950 with the famed neo-Orthodox theologian Karl Barth, and a scathing letter he got from Dr. Barth.)  Fascinating stuff.

A small matter of interest for at least a handful of BookNotes readers (yeah, you know who you are) might be the question Mr. Duriez raises about the role in Schaeffer’s work, of the thought of Kuyperian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.  Duriez, who knew Schaeffer well, and stayed in touch for decades, corresponded with Schaeffer specifically about the influence of Dooyeweerd;  Schaeffer’s intimate friend, Dooyeweerdian art critic Hans Rookmaaker, many know, insisted that he introduced Schaeffer to Dooyeweerd’s philosophy which then shaped Schaeffer’s famous trilogy of philosophical works.  Schaeffer  knew Van Til, another Dutch Calvinist (from Westminster Seminary) and there is a family resemblance to a number of these Reformed thinkers who called for the development of the distinctives of the Christian mind, for the sake of God-glorifying cultural witness and social change.  Of course, while this was going on, L’Abri was growing in popularity,  Eric Clapton and folk like Joan Baez were reading Escape from Reason;  Os Guinness was working on his first book The Dust of Death, and Schaeffer was chastising evangelicals in North America for not caring enough to learn about the issues being raised by the counterculture or taking seriously new art forms like film. For those whose faith was shaped in the middle or ending of the 20th century, whether you knew about this stuff then or not OR for those who are too young to have recalled these tumultuous times, and who may not think much of Schaeffer’s influence,  Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez is going to be great and is highly recommended!

With endorsements from the likes of  Alister McGrath and James Sire (who says “Schaeffer, the Jeremiah of the twentieth century, walks and talks again in these pages”) this surely is a very reputable and thoughtful work.  I am confident that it is.  We are very, very happy to present it to you.< br />

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life
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Three rare CDs for sale: reviewed at the May Hearts & Minds monthly review column

I have been working on this article reporting about and reviewing three remarkable and nearly unknown CDs that we have for sale and I really, really hope you will read my reflections on them.  Even if you aren’t interested in the music, the writing about them, I trust, will be inspiring and informative; they each have a very special story and some good folks behind them.  Please click on over to the monthly website column.  Pass it on to anybody else that is interested in music, any contemporary worship leaders,  folkies, activists or jazz connaisseurs.  These three releases are under the radar recordings and as an indie store, we are able to support these sorts of projects, but yet don’t know how to get the word out… 

life is more.jpgLife Is More 5n2  The spiritual-missional journey of our mail order pal, youth worker, social reformer, worship leader, guitarman Ethan Bryan from Missouri is described in my review, his journey of reading good books (like Irresistible Revolution and Colossians Remixed) and how he wrote an album full of songs, each somewhat inspired by a different cause, project or wholistic faith-based social justice ministry.  Hear songs inspired by groups such as Not for Sale, NoSweat, She Wrote Love On Her Arm, Blood:WaterMission, IJM, etc.  Low-budget, big hearted. I tell the whole story, and more…and what a story it is!  Check out the full column, please.

Songs for a Revolution of Hope  Brian McLaren, Tracey Howe, the Restoration Project
songs for a revolution of hope.jpg Tracey has collaborated with some pretty groovy worship leaders and acoustic new folksters, and has been outspoken about international concerns, justice and peace for some time now.  She took Brian up on his call for innovative and thoughtful new music for emerging, justice-seeking congregations, and they did this album together, with friends.  These tunes were a good part of the worship piece of the Everything Must Change tour.  Consider it a soundtrack to the book, whole-life worship stuff, with beat-poet spoken word a la Cockburn, medieval poets like Julian of Norwich or St. Francis put to country-folk, and some aggressive political awareness, placing orthodox theology next to a postmodern, socially engaged worldview.  Gentle tunes about kindness and mercy, too.  Read the whole review and order a batch of ’em.

heaven in a nightclup.jpgHeaven in a Nightclub  Bill Edgar, Ruth Naomi Floyd, John Patitucci, John Salzano  Our good friends at the thoughtful Christian hang-out and collegiate study center at Cornell, the wonderfully named Chesterton House, put together a full evening of conversation, art, and jazz music one glorious summer evening a year ago in a classy club in New York City.  Edgar is a mean jazz pianist, and knows a whole, whole, lot about the relationship of jazz to older African-American spirituals. Floyd, who often sings with him, is truly one of the great jazz vocalists of our time;  Patitucci is a Grammy Award recipient for his work on the bass; Salzano is a stellar, highly-regarded session sax player.  This live double disc is a treasure, a rare live show that captured a truly extraordinary night.  Supports the thoughtful work of Karl Johnson and other sharp Chesterton House folks in Ithaca, too.  Please see my full review, and order soon.

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313  717.246.3333

Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless

As I continue to celebrate the book I commended to you in the last post, the long-awaited and exceptionally important, yes, brilliant study by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, I am struck by how their themes of homelessness—as metaphor for postmodern dis-ease and a symptom of an economy that fails to appreciate the Biblical vision of home-making and creation-care—show up everywhere.  From the recent, delightful books about buying local, going organic and the joys of daily eating to the broader concerns about climate change and the price of gas, to the heart-breaking realities of refugees from political or natural disasters, the themes of exile and place and the longing for shalom are prominent.  I am convinced that Beyond Homelessness (as I will say in a large review later this month at the website column) is a book that will help us in very many ways; it is groundbreaking.  Like their very important and influential earlier works–The Transforming Vision, Colossians Remixed, For the Beauty of the Earth—this will make a major contribution to our thinking and, hopefully our living in these restless days.

justice courage 2.jpgHomelessness, oppression, displacement, injustice?  God’s hope, real hope? Deep joy amidst great sorrow?  Few have illustrated this more than the remarkable career of Gary A. Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission.  I recall a conversation on the phone with Gary years ago;  he had returned from overseeing for the Department of State the horrors of the genocide in Rwanda and felt compelled to start a Christian ministry, in those days described as something like a faith-based Amnesty International, a spiritually-powered agency that could tap into the wisdom and on-the-ground resources of God’s global people and resist the sorts of structural evils that the UN just couldn’t touch.  IJM has developed in to the premier NGO fighting international slavery, particularly child sex slavery and Haugen has become one of the most influential Christian leaders worldwide.  Evangelical students, especially, flock to hear him and are blogging, starting local chapters, and donating to groups fighting international abuse. (He was just awesome at Jubilee 2007, one of the best presentations in the history of that famous Pittsburgh gathering.) His first paperback book, Good News About Injustice  and subsequent video curriculum is a balanced and thoughtful study of international injustice issues and a mature invitation for Christians to care about public policy and see what God is doing through those who work for reconciliation, justice and public goodness.  Like a modern-day Wilberforce, he’s campaigned against modern day slavery (worse now than it was in the 18th and 19th centuries) and his powerful story Terrify No More documents in page-turning, heart-pounding detail the undercover rescue efforts to free child slaves from a brothel in Southeast Asia.  Maybe you saw the special on 20/20 or recall our recommendations of the book when it came out.  It is one that you can’t put down!

Now, Mr. Haugen brings us his most general book, not nearly as policy oriented and serious as his first, not as specific and detailed as his second, rather, an inspirational overview of the call to stand for justice, to be faithful and courageous, to move beyond comfort and safety and rise to the call to make a difference, in small and daily ways.  Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian (IVP; $18) could be his best yet, and we are thrilled that it has released a bit early.  Please don’t skip over the important Eerdmans Bouma-Prediger/ Walsh book as it is a truly profound and theologically mature bit of cultural analysis.  Just Courage, though, could be a great companion book, a brief but stirring call to trusting faith, to daily discipleship, to a global vision, the hope of what Christ’s followers are doing, and how we can take further steps to be agents of healing, hope and social transformation, especially for the hurting or oppressed. The chapters are very short, the readings inspiring, the discussion questions provocative, practical, usable.

Thanks to IJM, to Gary Haugen, and for publishers like IVP for doing such a fine primer on how to live out this concern that is so close to God’s own heart.  This is a great little book!

Just today I was ruminating on the spectacularly thrilling bit of dramatized monologue from the point of view of an 750 BC Jerusalem priest that meets up with the “farmer from Tekoa” the prophet Amos, as envisioned in one of the many Biblical interludes in Beyond Homelessness.  Amos was one of the first Old Testament prophetic books that I studied in depth in the mid-70s and it still ripples down the decades; I’m thrilled to learn something new, to consider the implications for my feeble life.  Quite simply, Just Courage by Gary Haugen will help us hear Amos and live Amos, will help “let justice roll down.”   Will it take you a bit of courage to even order such a book?   To recommend it to a friend or loved on, to suggest it as a study at your church or fellowship? 

Early Prediction for 2008 Book of the Year: Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Brian J. Walsh & Steven Bouma-Prediger

beyond homelessness.jpgBeyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma- Prediger and Brian J. Walsh (Eerdmans; $24.00)  is a book that I can safely say will be one of the most important works of the year, a major contribution to Christian social analysis and cultural reformation.  I’ve followed these friends a bit as they’ve worked out this material. I’ve had an early draft and have been awaiting this published copy for a year; I couldn’t be more excited that it has arrived.  Thanks be to God, the ever-faithful home-making and Earth-restoring God who comes to us in Jesus not, as they ably show, to take us away to heaven only to leave behind a burning planet, but to help us image the God of creation here, now, in creation-caring stewardship, until that great day when Christ returns to consummate his covenantal ways in a new Earth.

Walsh has written widely as co-author about the shape of a Christian way of living, based on a Biblical worldview informed by the grand story of creation-fall-redemption (Transforming Vision, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, Subversive Christianity , The Advent of Justice, and, with his wife Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed.)  How this has transfigured—through, among other things, forming a friendship and working relationship with environmental studies scholar (and author of the brilliant For the Beauty of the Earth) Steven Bouma-Prediger, reading a lot of Walter Brueggemann and Wendell Berry and the new urbanists like James Howard Kunstler, and moving into a sustainable agricultural community farm)—to the metaphor and images of home-making/exile/home-coming, is itself quite an amazing part of the story of this book.  The grand drama of Scripture is still the heart of this book, but the new insights about land and place and the hope (in Revelation 21 and 22) of a “gardened city” are fresh and generative.  I do not say this lightly, I really don’t: this is brilliant.

The Biblical studies are profound (and there are creative Bible interludes between each longer chapter that will bring the insightful and provocative reflections of Colossians Remixed to mind.) The scholarly breadth is prodigious, the cultural awareness just amazing. From the stories to the science, the cultural criticism to the theological proposals, from the song quotes to the incredible footnotes, this is one really interesting read.

It has deep integrity, too, remarkably so.  From their work in classrooms and homeless shelters, to their work in homesteading and sustainable agriculture, they have lived out faithful and creative ways of being agents of God’s great homecoming.  They’ve studied the meanings of home and homelessness, both among the very rich (who may have houses, but not homes in any meaningful sense) and the literally homeless (who may have homes in the sense of a community of belonging, even without houses.)  They explored how the high modern culture displaces us, metaphorically and sometimes literally, from our “sense of place.” They’ve related the cultural angst and upward mobility culture with our disregard for the creation itself, related (as has their friend Bob Goudzwaard) the relationships between some of the key social problems of our time, from climate change to global poverty.

The insight of this important work is urgently needed, and I will be exploring Beyond Homelessness in greater detail in a longer book review over at our monthly column at the website.  For now, please know of our very sincere gratitude for this remarkable work, our commitment to try to explain it well to folks so our readers purchase it, read it, discuss it, and deepen their ties to communities and places, living out the transforming vision that underlies this profound gift of insight, courage and hope.

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5 books announced at Penn SE Conference conference

Here’s a posting to give a public thanks to the Penn Southeast Conference of the UCC for having us to their annual conference again; that hall in the Host is so gigantic! It was great (if exhausting) to set it up with such a huge display.  We are grateful for your interest in books, and glad for the freedom to stock such diverse topics and varied perspectives. From worship resources to the various theological texts, from faith-based perspectives in politics and global concerns to books on spiritual formation, from Christian ed resources and kids books to the massive amount of stuff on congregational life and parish development, like the Alban Institute books that we stock, we loved to show off so much of our wares.  Thanks for caring.

Somebody asked that I post the books I announced from the main podium, so here is the gist of my announcement from Thursday afternoon. Order any on line, or call us, and we’ll offer the conference discount price of 10% off of the regular retail price shown. 

minding the spirit.gifMinding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality Mark S. Burrows & Elizabeth Dreyer (Johns Hopkins University Press) $20.95  Keynote speaker Mark Borrows (formerly of Andover Newton and apparently a very well-loved seminary prof) did a fabulous job by all accounts in inviting us to think seriously about communicating our faith, growing deep spaces in our churches for meaningful reflection and mature, grounded discipleship.  Of course, we loved his stuff on the role of the imagination, was glad for his call to use poetry (he gets extra points for citing Mary Oliver), and found it marvelous that he called upon church leaders to read widely, to read also for themselves, including novels.  I’d add, also, creative nonfiction, memoirs and autobiographies.  (His suggestion of the Annie Dillard novel The Maytrees was very interesting; it recently came out in paperback.) Rev. Burrow’s helped edit this volume, a spectacularly interesting and deep scholarly book which makes a case for studying spirituality (some of the insights from his talk had some overlap with at least one of his chapters in this collection.)  It is a rare bit of scholarship and not an common book to find.  Glad we have it!

The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible  Eugene Peterson  (NavPress) $16.99  I’veThe Invitation.jpg promoted this at several conferences this spring and folks have consistently shown great interest.  This is simply a handsome hardback casebound copy of the introductions to each book of the Bible that are found in Peterson’s best-selling Bible paraphrase, The Message.  His eloquent and interesting and historically helpful overview of each Biblical book, and some other introductions (like, say, a chapter in the beginning about the big picture of the whole Scriptures, or his intro to the prophets, or to the gospels) are simply spectacular.  When a writer this good explains the Bible so well, with such gusto, insight and brevity, it is a winner. I was glad that some of our UCC friends were as excited about using it in their personal devotions or in church settings as we are.

Love, Ultimate Apologetic.jpgLove The Ultimate Apologetic: The Heart of Christian Witness Art Lindsley (IVP) $15  Art is a good friend and has written other books on apologetics, rejecting the relativistic ethos of our culture, drawing on C.S. Lewis and others to offer up a solid argument for truth, for Christian orthodoxy, for a mature witness of balanced Biblical perspective in the public square.  Here, though, he reminds us how this must be accomplished: through love.  Few good books exist about this topic, and his explorations and ruminations are thoughtful and provocative, nothing mushy, always balanced and solidly Biblical. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love…” the old song goes.  This helps unpack that with depth.

Jesus for President  Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw (Zondervan) $16.99  You may know that we’ve been big promoters of his first book, The Irresistible Revolution, and we pushed it at the conference last year.  This one is a bit deeper, but with a stunning full-color, youthful look.  I’ve noted before that theJesus for President.jpg conservative evangelical publisher releasing this pacifist manifesto with its edgy pomo graphics and hard hitting critique of imperialism—especially of the proud US sort, government or corporations—indicates a new wind blowing through Christian publishing.  Shane exposes the bankruptcy of civil religion and calls us back to the radical implications of the Bible.  He and his co-author draw on John Howard Yoder and William Stringfellow, the Berrigan brothers, Walter Wink, Dorothy Day and other scoundrels of radical faith to call us, joyfully, to a vision of political life that is rooted in the unfolding Scriptural story about peace, justice, a sane lifestyle and a Kingdom that is supplanting all other contending reigns.  Whew. This may be our biggest selling book of the year as we recommend it everywhere we go, even if it sometimes takes some explaining.

Dangerous Surrender.jpgDangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes To God  Kay Warren (Zondervan) $21.99  Okay, I’ll admit you may be scratching your head, since some have this view that mainline denominational folks, let alone more radical Christians like the new monasticism and resistance movement of Shane are opposed to mega-churches, and see Warren’s popularity as somehow a sign of serious sell-out.

All I can say is that this book moved me to tears, that her struggle with breast cancer, her friendship with gay folks with AIDS, her risky and dynamic work in Africa are simply told and inspiring.  They are fabulous examples of following Christ into areas of great suffering, of wholistic service, of obedience to the call of God.  Kudos to the Warren’s for parlaying their great fame and wealth into something like their work against AIDS and poverty in Africa.  And kudos to friends in the UCC who, knowing their different theologically perspectives, were willing to purchase some of this easy-to-read story of not just a mega-church star, but a serious follower of Jesus, who is willing to “say Yes to God.”.  I hope it bears fruit in helping mainline folks and evangelicals respect one another and maybe, maybe, help readers to take steps towards such brave and effective service themselves.

feasting on the w
ord.jpgFeasting on the Word Year B volume 1 Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary  edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (WJK) $39.95  I believe it was years ago at a Penn SE event where Beth and I first met Barbara Brown Taylor.  We went on to promote all of her books, every where we go.  If you read her in the Christian Century or other sources, you know she is thoughtfully engaged and deeply interested in the actual words, rhetoric, sentences, stories of Scripture.  She works hard as a preacher, thinking, praying, preparing each week.  As an elegant writer, she, along with respected New Testament professor (Columbia Theological Seminary) Dr. David Bartlett, are well positioned to offer up this extraordinary first volume of what will become a historic, extraordinary resource for lectionary preachers. 

Each week offers four perspectives on the four lectionary selections; that is, there is a brief essay which they call a pastoral, a theological, an exegetical, and an homiletical perspective.  Four columns, each running for a page or more, on each of the four weekly lections. (They are in facing columns, a very nice design option.) The writers drawn in to this project are a diverse and ecumenical bunch, delightfully interesting, it seems, and all actively involved in Christian formation, teaching, preaching or writing.  A quick glance over the contributors shows a number of folks I know, a number more I know of and trust. This is a goldmine and treasure-trove.

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The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time

In our over 25 years of bookselling, a few authors stand out for their passion, their large interest in their work and their enthusiastic support for our feeble efforts to sell a few of their titles; titles they usually believed—without pride or presumption—might make a difference in the world.  We’ve looked to them as models of a thoughtful and serious presence within the publishing world and promoting their work helped define our calling here.  Some have sheer enthusiasm, a sharp mind, or a colorful personality and we are energized by listening to them (think Tony Campolo, or, differently, Marva Dawn or Lauren Winner.)  Others are weighty and understated, but the substance and caliber of their work attracts serious listeners and readers (think, for instance, Eugene Peterson, Os Guinness, or Ron Sider.)  In their own ways, these sorts of authors are most memorable for their ongoing pubic witness through their excellent books, their important and gifted writing and the vital content of their ministries.  We have been grateful for their friendship to us here at Hearts & Minds.

And there is Tom Sine.  Sine speaks faster and with as much gusto as Campolo, yet 
tom sine.jpg shares the earthy spirituality of Eugene Peterson; he is fluent and thoughtful about global trends and international affairs and also in the daily, local details of what he calls     “whole-life discipleship.”  And he phones us some days just to encourage us out here in small town central PA.  You see, he believes in the extravagant sowing of seeds and the world-changing power of mustard seeds.

In the mid to late 1970s, as a young evangelical with very public interests, I was hungry for good books and like-minded allies.  In 1980, I believe, I realized (with great delight) that Tom Sine’s groundbreaking The Mustard Seed Conspiracy was, well, groundbreaking.  While some friends and I were studying the history of ideas and the deformation of culture from the impact of idolatrous ideologies and worldviews (reading the likes of Francis Schaeffer, Herman Dooyeweerd, Nicholas Woltersdorf, or Bob Goudzeward) others joined together as we signed up to protest the not so cold war militarism of the arms race.  Influenced by Sojourners and The Other Side and Jim Wallis’ early books, which drew on leaders such as John Howard Yoder, William Stringfellow, Dorothy Day, James Cone,  and Dan Berrigan, we forged communities of action and creative resistance.  Most evangelicals, nor many mainline folks, in those years didn’t care much about the world at all, though, and both the cultural worldview reformers and the political/social activists impressed me with their desire to live out the faith in relevant, transformational ways.  The Mustard Seed Conspiracy seemed in ways to combine various diverse streams, and Sine’s watershed book seemed to have a serious understanding of the broadest social and ideological trends yet invited radical action.  I am only one of many who found that book extraordinary.   Beth heard him at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh in those years, and was very impressed, quoting Calvin and Ellul. 

Among the many authors Sine cited (and he always cites a lot) were leaders who became my own heroes and mentors, James Skillen, Ron Sider, John Perkins.  MSC raised a prophetic cry from the evangelical center.  Sine believed that ordinary church folk could make a difference, not just the heavy cultural critics or the exceptionally dedicated resistance protestors.  And he was right.

Years later, as movements and traditions solidified and authors became better known, Tom kept at it, mixing the groups, networking younger voices, doing a string of inspiring, upbeat, invigorating books, drawing always on this wide array of sources, pushing this unique blend of social critique, deep spirituality, radical social action.  From the excellent, brief, introductory study Taking Discipleship Seriously: A Radical Approach (still a must-read and highly recommended) to the critique of the American Dream in Live It Up, from the fairly academic Cease-fire: Searching for Sanity in America’s Culture Wars to the fabulous Finding Your Purpose (better than Purpose Driven Life, as I said in these pages years ago) his books have been consistently interesting and helpful.  Ravi Zacharias famously named Mustard Seed vs McWorld as one of the most important books he’d ever read.  Tom Sine has been an important conference speaker, organizer, consultant and workshop facilitator over the last 25 years, even as he has been based in intentional community, and—importantly, given his calling—in serious relationship with folk from all over the world, especially, it seems, in the U.K. and Down Under.  I think it is fair to say that he stays put and is widely traveled, knows the ordinariness of a real place and yet sees the biggest of pictures.

Sine has been palpably hopeful (his book Wild Hope is sadly out of print) and exceedingly creative, alongside his wife Christine, herself a former Mercy Ship doctor, and author (most recently of Godspace which is a lovely and helpful book on rest, and life’s rhythms.)  When they offer lectures or seminars they might tell stories from Africa, or insist on a closing celebratory feast.  They might have you up and dancing or sitting in prayerful silence or reciting a Celtic blessing.  (They might even have you doing all of those things, just in the first half a day!)  They believe in the sanctified imagination, in a pedagogy that is communal, joyful, and active, and they believe that learning can be transformational.  As I said, there are certain authors who deeply believe in the power of their books, not due to pride or presumption, but because they believe that God uses ordinary folk like themselves to make an impact.  Why else would an author work hard to write a book if they didn’t significantly hope that it will find an audience who will be transformed by it? Sadly, though, many of the Sines’ books have been under-the-radar, I’m afraid, not selling as well as they should;  yet they’ve changed lives.  They are considered by important thinkers to be pivotal.  I’m not sure if Sine coined the phrasing “missional” but he has been a part of that conversation, that movement, inviting folks to joyous lives of simple living and radical service for the Kingdom of God, the shalom of the planet.  Almost all of his books have been critically acclaimed, and we have several of them still on our shelves here.  We are grateful for the chance to have these kinds of resources to recommend and are honored to call him a friend and H&M supporter.

Tom Sine’s persona, his presentations, and his books are infectious; as much as any author I know, Tom backs up his writing with a wild life of faith-filled hope, experimenting (to borrow Ghandi’s phrase) with truth.  He and his comrades in the mustard seed conspiracy breath together (that is the meaning of the word) to cook up (sometimes literally) a new world.  From multi-ethnic meals to multi-denominational worship experiences, he nurtures community, facilitates networks, evokes Godly imagination and insists with every fiber of his being that God’s intentions for His planet is seen in the redemptive restoration of Jesus the Servant King.

So, Tom the statistician and futurist, Tom the Celtic mystic and worship poet, Tom the world missions guru and global storyteller, has left a mark.  The Mustard Seed Conspiracy< /b> (now oddly out of print) has been considered one of the most influential Christian books of the 20th century.  Ask the best leaders and they all will cite him as influential in their journey. 

And so it has come to pas that InterVarsity Press realized that that classic book might be re-issued in some anniversary, updated manner.  Could the ever-energetic, overly optimistic, exceptionally visionary Tom Sine settle for an update of that old chestnut?  He’s a futurist, recall, and is convinced that peopled are called to “read the signs of the times.”  He is, somewhat like Leonard Sweet, a semiotician.  He knows how the times have changed!  Of course, nothing but a whole new book would do.  Viola: The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time is the new result, and it is not a spiffed up version of MSC2 but a whole new book!  Can you hear the echo of the original mustard seed conspiracy?  This is the new conspiracy, or at least new forms of the old one.

New Conspirators.jpgThe New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time (IVP: $15) is an obvious hat tip to the vision and hopes and style of MSC.  As did the original, this includes stories of ordinary folk, it includes incisive political and demographic analysis, cultural criticism, missional theology.  And did I mention there are stories?  Energetic stories, well told illustrations, plenty of examples and case studies?  I know a few preachers who have gotten this just for the sermon illustrations (true sermon illustrations) about those who heard the call to live out wholistic faith, to be a fool for Christ, who responded to grace in creative initiatives of servanthood and mission.  The New Conspirators is packed full of glad news, of those who find life in giving their lives away for God’s sake and their neighbors good.

As the sociologist and “big picture” scholar that he is, Mr. Sine is not content to just call us to service, to tell the tales of God’s new faithful.  (That would be plenty, frankly, but NC is much more than a radical version of Chicken Soup for the Soul.)  He has his finger on the pulse of the latest trends, even those that tend to be under the radar, and explores plenty of fascinating aspects of the 21st century mood, values and concerns.  As one reviewer puts it, he is “a master of connecting the dots.”  Here, he is particularly passionate about exploring groups who are thinking in fresh ways, understanding faith and discipleship in peculiar ways, movements that are fast becoming trends themselves–and connecting those dots.  He explores four of what could become, especially in the aggregate, the most significant movements from the margins to impact the church and consequently the church in our time.  Although we are “traveling in turbulent times” he remains inspired.  He also insightfully tells us of several important conversations that are happening the world over, among these four movements, conversations that run throughout the book.  He introduces plenty of new content, and reminds us of plenty of stuff we thought we knew, gaining perhaps a new angle of vision.  He underscores certain concerns and explains complicated matters in clear prose.  It is a marvelously rich book, potent and packed.  As one customer quipped, “you sure get your money’s worth when you buy this one!” 

Not only do you get your “money’s worth” with the vast and informative content and fun stories, but I believe Sine speaks with authority here, authority earned from the decades of traveling, listening, thinking and working on this stuff.  Listen as Shane Claiborne nicely comments in the foreword, words that are very nice, but, more importantly, are very insightful and important:

Tom has not just tried to understand this generation like many of his peers, but Tom has tried to stand under it.  He has been a learner and listener to a generation set on making its own mistakes and dreaming its own dreams for the church.  He is a humble sower of mustard seeds, not the one who scrambles to devour the bountiful harvest.

This book runs the risk of making a few of us young tykes look too good, but that in itself is evidence of Tom’s humility.  His motivation for writing is to see a church that is one as God is one, a people that mirror the peculiar and countercultural politics of God’s kingdom, a body that looks more like Jesus than the ole time religion of the past.  It is that old, stale Christianity that threatens to inoculate us from the real thing. And it is books like this one that revive our imaginations to the things that are turning God on in the world. 

Tom jokes in the book about getting lost easily when he travels, claiming “the gift of disorientation.”  So he goes out of his way to make the myriad of voices and themes in The New Conspirators understandable and clearly presented.  He lists five conversations that are occurring, and need to be occurring, in our home settings.  And he describes, in what is the heart of the book, four groups of “new conspirators” who are, in their unique way, bringing a fresh and vital contribution to the work of advancing God’s reign.

The conversations–“stops along our journey together” as he puts it—explore the following topics as we are invited to join God’s quiet conspiracy.  (Yes, Sine is delightfully and quite intentionally relentless in his writing style, inviting us, the readers, to be a part of this conversation.)  He calls this overview a “global positioning tour” and it is the structure of the book:

1.  Taking the new conspirators seriously.
2.  Taking the culture seriously.
3.  Taking the future of God seriously.
4.  Taking the turbulent times seriously.
5.  Taking our imaginations seriously.

“This book,” he writes, “is an invitation to be much more a part of something really, really small that is quietly changing our world.  But it is also an invitation to revisit our images and understandings of the story to which we have given our lives.” 

Sine says that he finds that “many older evangelical Christians assume that all the important questions were answered decades ago and that we got all the answers right; now all we need to do is simply improve our tactics and strategies.  But as I look at the contemporary expressions of Christian life, church and mission, I am not convinced that we have gotten all the answers right.  I am going to echo some of the tough questions I hear being raised by younger leaders on the conspiratorial edge.  I am going to invite us to the challenging task of revisiting five important questions.”  He lists them like this:

1.  Did we get our eschatology wrong?
2.  Did we get what it means to be a disciple wrong?
3.  Did we get what it means to be a steward wrong?
4.  Did we get what it means to be the church wrong?
5.  Did we get what it means to do mission wrong?

And, to be honest, he is just getting warmed up… Of course, many younger Christian readers may not even quite realize how significant these conversations, and these questions are.  They seem so right to be asked; Sine is correct, though—many are reluctant to even have these kinds of conversations, to ask these kinds of questions.  We are glad to have a book like this to use and strongly commend it to you and your group; it is urgent to be attentive t
o God’s Spirit as we discern together the most faithful ways to live into this stuff.  He is tentative and humble when he needs to be, and provoking and energetic almost always. His middle section about God’s intentions to heal the planet, consistent with, say, N.T. Wright’s well known work on new creation, is fabulous and could generate great conversations and greater Biblical faithfulness. 

 And, he really does look for global conversation and mutual edification.  Their Mustard Seed Associates has created a study guide for the book (beyond the already plentiful conversation starters and discussion resources in the text itself.)  Visit or email the author at They even give you their phone number in the book if you want to call them!  They’ve created a free e-zine, too, sharing stories from around the world.  Sign up for The Seed Sample for a regular story in your inbox..  Conspiratorial, eh?

But, how about the four movements?  What or who are they?

Throughout his travels, Tom has networked and researched and fellowshipped with (at least) four distinct (if overlapping) movements.  These trends, streams that are impacting how church and ministry is being considered, influencing major publishing houses, setting the agenda at conferences and confabs the world over, shaping our vocabularies and imaginative horizons, are described with particular clarity in the first conversation (“taking the new conspirators seriously.”) 

1.  The Emergents.  Obviously, these are (in my words) those lead by the emergent village, but including many more, the postmodern hipsters who are hosting their own global conversations and local cohorts rethinking everything in light of their rejection of modernist agendas and evangelical platitudes.  I’ve written about these folk before and trust you agree that this is a major movement, for better or worse.  Recent reviews have suggest that Sine is one of the best reporters of the emergent-type movements, and The New Conspirators is taking its place beside such standard overviews as Ryan Bolger’s classic The Emergent Churches or the recent Tony Jones, The New Christians.

2.  The Missionals.   It may have been Princeton’s Darrel Gruder who coined the phrase, but this catchphrase implies more than being interested in world missionary work.  This is a “new” mindset where churches are communities, even countercultural ones, that exist for others.  They are not about themselves, but are about the purposes of God in the world.  Influenced by the likes of Leslie Newbegin and popular in the mainline churches, especially, being missional may be the most significant buzzword of the new century.  Sine names the “Gospel and our Culture Network” as an important standard-bearer in this post-Christendom move, and we couldn’t agree more.  Missio Dei is “Thy Kingdom Come.”  And that always takes embodied shape within real cultures, but must not be absorbed by them.  Complicated?  Stay with Sine a bit and it will be your burning passion.

3.  The Mosaics.   Tom uses this nice M word perhaps inspired by the creative efforts by Irwin Raphael McManus and his Mosaic congregation in LA to be truly multi-ethnic and cross cultural.  Resisting racial injustice and celebrating multi-ethnic reconciliation is part of this, but a true celebration of the normative nature of ethnic diversity for the church is the positive goal.  There are wonderful strides being made here, perhaps less in mainline denominational churches, despite their well-intentioned rhetoric.  Many of the most vibrant church plants in most major cities are ethnic congregations and multi-racial ministries are much more prevalent in the US than ever before. Good for Tom for sensing the importance of this stream; there is little use denying this (read Jenkins for the global picture) and every good reason, Biblically and theologically, for working hard to overcome the church’s tendencies towards unfaithful homogeneity.

4.  The Monastics.   While truly cloistered folk may not be the model, here, the monastic movement has taught us much, and the likes of Richard Foster, Henri Nouwan, Thomas Merton and such have swept the broader church, helping many grow more intentionally about spiritual practices, contemplative disciplines, and spirituality that is forms character and sustains a life of Christlikeness and fidelity.  Interestingly, Sine sees the “new monasticism” as being especially involved in the classic monastic outreach to the poor.  Citing the likes of legendary third world urban worker Viv Grigg and Camden NJ activist Shane Claiborne, Scott Bessenecker, who wrote The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World’s Poor, and John Hayes (of the urban SubMerge movement) Sine documents this amazing move of younger evangelicals embracing God” demand for social justice and solidarity with the poorest of the poor.   Again, although mainline churches seem socially progressive and ecumenical seminaries teach liberation theology, it is clearly younger evangelicals that are flooding the two-thirds world with creative initiatives, wholistic ministries, and writing the most compelling books about God’s deep passion for the relief of oppression and our compassion for the poor.

Not unrelated, too, is Tom’s amazing fluency in the global scene, his very helpful suggestions for taking the needs of the poor seriously (as well  the needs of the middle classes, and the wealthy in the global economy.)  Can we “make poverty history?”  Can ordinary Christian folk get involved in the debates about globalization?  Further, he dips just a bit into the work of Lamin Sanneh and Philip Jenkins and others who report on the increasingly global and non-Western make-up of the worldwide body of Christ.  I know Tom knows these guys, and his heart pounds for a global vision.  This is really, really great stuff, fascinating, urgent, and very accessible for those who tend not to read such sophisticated work or current affairs.  Oh, the seeds he is sowing, and the good work that can come out of those who read this material.  What might happen if a group here or there, your group, perhaps, takes something of this to heart, and makes room in their lives for more intentional faithfulness as culturally awake, global citizens?

I hope that–and I dream what could happen as—many read this book, and that churches, Bible study groups, small faith communities, and adult ed classes use it.  It is well worth reading, a great overview of the issues of our time, and offers a very nice balance between detail and new information and illustrative stories and inspiring rhetoric.  The flow and cadence is right—I know he worked very hard to make this jam-packed and user-friendly.

There are criticisms that can be made as there are with any book.  My own personal peeve is that he doesn’t describe the perhaps even lesser known movement, but very important, uprising of younger neo-Calvinists, those citing Kuyper and inviting conversations about “thinking Christianly” about every area of life.  Friends doing great work on culture, local economies, sustainable and faithful daily lifestyle stuff over at catapult and their *cino network, working at work-world reformation and new urbanism at comment and the important Jubilee conference inviting college students to think about their vocations all come to mind; broader events like the Q (sponsored by the extraordinary cultural creatives at The Fermi Project or New York’s stunning International Arts Movement (IAM).  The Christian Vision project of Christianity Today’s Christian Vision Project (counter-cultural practices for the common good) have been a fresh way for evangelicals and others to engage culture, and Andy Crouch’s DVD “Where Faith & Culture Meet” is a great collection of mustard-seed type innovations.  Andy Crouch’s own culture making site is generating conversations that help folks reflect on getting beyond cultural consumption or critique towards contribution.  All of these in one way or another informed by the neo-Calvinistic Kuyperian worldview and are sowing true mustard seeds that may blossom into sweet gifts for the common good. 

Tom is well acquainted with the increasingly progressive stream within the (post?) evangelical world and his sympathies are clearly with our emergent friends.  A few of the chapters in his book are actually a tremendous intro to that movement.  Still, I wonder how much more helpful it may be to offer some critique or concern about the foibles of that movement?  Certainly there are those who don’t think that movement will offer much of substance for the long haul…  And does the shift from “post-modern to post-colonial” that Brian McLaren so powerfully discusses in The Emerging Manifesto of Hope indicate a trend?  It is one that Tom is perfectly positioned to not only document but to guide.

Lastly, I might have wished for more direct discussion of the fate of the mainline churches.  Are they sidelined?  Are they still viable?  Can our historic liberal denominations live into the new practices that they are themselves writing about, being shaped by deeper worship, teaching contemplative, going missional, and more faithfully guided by their best doctrinal traditions?  The New Conspirators is not at all irrelevant to mainline churches, even if many of the stories are not of your typical Lutheran or Presbyterian or Methodist parishes.  Many of his illustrations are, in fact, from mainline settings (including his good knowledge of Anglican ministry in the U. K.) if admittedly from some of the more innovative and experimental congregations.  Again, this is a part of his own heart, and he and Christine speak often for traditional mainline denominations, so I would have wished for just a small bit more about that as a context for forming new conspirators and how that might be encouraged.

These are just minor quibbles though, and I invite you to consider getting this, for all of the good reasons named above.  The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time is perhaps Tom Sine’s crowning work, or, as Alan Hirsch puts it, “vintage Tom Sine.”  He does his social analysis, does social visionary thing, he tells tons of inspiring stories, he documents new trends and invites us to be aware of the (perhaps) strategic influences of several new streams within the broader Body of Christ, even as we live out the implications of these in fresh ways contextualized to the contemporary world and its ways and needs.   He has tons of interesting foonotes and a great sample of on-line resources.  Sine invites you and me, readers, to become friends, well-aware and awake, networked and involved, in spiritual renewal of the sort that is, indeed, “whole life discipleship”—living it up, finding our purpose, taking discipleship seriously, living in a world “between Mustard Seed and McWorld.”  Yes, through his whole body of work, and now in this new masterpiece, he invites us to “imagine the future that is already here.”

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA  17313      717.246.3333

The Trouble With Paris

twp.JPGI raced through a book recently which I could hardly put down—it would make an ideal study for a young adult group, a culturally interested adult ed class, or a book to work through with a young person interested in popular culture.  Anyone who knows that it is important to study our social context—or, perhaps, those that don’t–should be aware of this fun and interesting, alarming yet hopeful new book, The Trouble With Paris: Following Jesus in a World of Plastic Promises by Mark Sayers (Nelson; $14.99.)  It is fabulous, and that’s no hype.

It might not be fully fair or adequate to describe the book as obliquely asking about the relationship between the high culture of Paris, France, and the high living of Paris Hilton; it is more generally about ultra-hip postmodern culture and the downward spiral of a life that buys into the superficial pleasures of Hollywood endings and media-promoted consumerism but ends with very little authenticity or joy. So forget Paris, it is about Yourtown, USA, Mytown, PA; it is about you and me and nearly every single young person you know.  From our obsessions with reality TV to internet addictions, from media-drenched teenage materialists to aging boomers thinking of church leadership in terms of celebrity, from the glamour of magazine ads to the impact of photo-shopping and computer-enhanced images, we are all stuck in a world that is, if I may use the old fashioned Christian word laden with negative connotations, worldly.  And, ironically, increasingly surreal, what Sayers called hyper-real. 

Mark Sayers isn’t a curmudgeon or naysayer, though, nor is he an overly pious prude.  He’s taken with the joys and blessings of pop culture, aware of ways modern technologies and contemporary trends have enhanced our lives.  Still, he’s a cultural critic of the first order, well-read in everything from Postman to Baudrillard, citing Vincent Miller and John Kavanaugh against consumerism and David Myers and Barney Schwartz on the paradoxes of choice.  How many evangelical authors cite Jurgen Moltmann and John Piper, Jeremy Rifkin and Julian of Norwich, Ravi Zacharias and Leslie Newbigin ?  How many postmodern scholars cite Zygmunt Bauman and Abraham Heschel? 

Which is to say not only is this a culturally aware work, a well-written, interesting and fresh look at the “plastic promises” of this Paris propensity (sorry) but it is theologically rich, Biblically grounded, evangelically spirited.  It isn’t just a jeremiad against 21st century forms of hot-wired worldliness, but is a sophisticated and insightful exploration of how such hyper-reality erodes real life, distorts our views of ourselves, even distorts faith itself. Sayers is Australian, friends with Alan Hirsch (The Forgotten Ways) and the Red Network.  He is missional, creative, energetic, wholisitic—the big ending to this, the last few chapters, are about living redemptively in the real world in ways that I believe are really right on, down to Earth, thank God!  It is to the books credit that its solid call for embodied whole-life discipleship is the sort that has garnered rave reviews from Gregory Laughery, a thoughtful teacher at the Swiss L’Abri (and author of the fabulous Living Spirituality), from social activist Shane Claiborne and Presbyterian pastor/writer John Ortberg.

The Trouble With Paris
by Mark Sayers is a very approachable and interesting study of the false realities of our age;  indeed, it exposes how we’ve been ripped off by our culture’s version of reality.  The reign of God, living faithfully in a human and humane way in God’s good creation, under Christ’s Lordship, finding spiritual presence in the midst of the ordinary real, is the Biblical antidote to the trap of the sexualized, slick version of a hyper-reality offered by Paris et al.

trouble with paris DVD.JPGIt wouldn’t be a hip and user-friendly text, though, if it didn’t have a multi-media component, so, happily, there is a 4-week DVD curriculum that we also stock, making it (I’m smiling a bit as I write this) a subversive use of the electronic media for saner, wiser purposes.  Check out the very active Paris website, and grab a few clips to see if it might be useful for you or your group.   It sells for $39.99 and there are extra participants guides available as well which will walk you into the trouble, and serve as a guide to a way through to the really really.  A few groups that have used it and have written on line have suggested it is a great conversation starter, stimulating reflection and well worth the cost.

Trouble With Paris
Regularly $14.95

Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313